Feb. 17, 2010
Winsley Polo, 2, lies in her crib outdoors beneath a tarp at Grace
Children's Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Her parents are missing
following the earthquake. UMNS photos by Mike DuBose. View in Photo Gallery
The images from Haiti—infants alone in an orphanage, the vacant stares
of abandoned children standing amid the rubble—are heartbreaking.
The first response in the hearts of many people is to want to rescue
the most vulnerable survivors of the Jan. 12 earthquake, the children
whose guardians are dead or missing and face an uncertain future in a
country that was already one of the poorest in the world.
But the temptation to wrap one of those children up in your arms, and
bring them to a more secure life in your native land, needs to be
tempered by a number of practical and moral concerns, say United
“Adoption can be an appropriate response, if done carefully, but
moving to that sort of permanent change of status while the situation is
still so fluid can raise issues,” said Harriett Jane Olson, top
executive of the Women’s Division of the United Methodist Board of
Proceeding with legal adoptions in Haiti when needed documentation
was lost in the earthquake is “difficult at best,” said Deborah
Robinson, executive director of Miriam’s Promise, a Nashville-based
adoption agency affiliated with The United Methodist Church.
The best way to help children who survived the earthquake is to
provide funds and gifts for their immediate care, she said.
“What folks who want to help these kids need to do is really just
help provide for their basic needs right now in Haiti,” Robinson said.
“That's not what people are going to want to hear. You want to feel like
you're doing something very tangible.”
People who do feel called to adopt Haitian children should work
through reputable organizations, said Linda Bales Todd, director of the
Louise and Hugh Moore Population Project of the United Methodist Board
of Church and Society.
“Be careful and make sure that you're going through the proper
channels, and with a reputable organization, and do not go out on your
own just trying to rescue children without really being fully prepared
and educated about the proper channels,” Todd said.
Boys pass the time outdoors at the Methodist Children's Home orphanage
in Port-au-Prince. View in Photo Gallery
Ten U.S. citizens remain jailed in Haiti on charges of child
kidnapping and criminal association after they tried to take 33 Haitian
children to the Dominican Republic without documentation following the
earthquake. The Americans, most of them members of an Idaho-based
Baptist church group, said they were trying to rescue children and
orphans who were abandoned after the disaster.
Julie Taylor, executive secretary for children, youth and family
advocacy for the Women's Division, said the threat of child exploitation
exists during this time of turmoil in Haiti. “It can be hard to
determine the appropriateness of adoptions,” she said.
First, listen to the people who are hurting, Robinson advised.
“In any disaster, if we're truly going to be the hands of Christ,
then we have to hear from the hurt person what they need from us,” she
said. “We need them to tell us what they need and how to help, not to go
in and with our ‘American wisdom’ to say this is what we want for you.
This is what we think you need.”
Robinson said she understands the urge some people have to get
Haitian children away from the death and destruction surrounding them.
“I truly do because I felt the same way,” she said. “You look at
these faces and you think, ‘I just want to go get them, and I want to
bring them home where the world's not caving in.’ You want them to be
But just having that feeling does not mean an individual is ready to
adopt a child, she said.
Adoption is a lifelong process, she cautioned.
“What I would say to folks who truly are looking now or later to
adopt a Haitian orphan, or from any country, is that you really need to
spend some time in prayer and in thought and to make sure that building
your family through adoption is the best fit,” she said. “The kids who
are going to come have been traumatized. They've lost their world, and
it's going to take a lot of patience and a lot of very specialized care
to help them heal.”
The best outreach to help the Haitian children now is to provide care
for them in Haiti, Robinson said.
“These kids have been through a tremendous horror and trauma. Their
existing world has certainly changed drastically, maybe even their world
of people who care for them,” she said. “And then to swoop them up and
send them to a country where no one looks like them, where taste and
smells and food are all different, at the same time they are already in a
current trauma just re-traumatizes them.
“So we're lessening their chance for success if we do that to them,”
Robinson said. “Even the ones who are ready for adoption or who could be
certified, they still need some time to get their bearings after what's
happened to them.”
*Gillem is a freelance writer in Brentwood, Tenn.
News media contact: David Briggs, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or